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UCF Hires Sytia Messer as New Head Coach

Messer has been Kim Mulkey’s top assistant for the last eight years

Baylor University vs University of Notre Dame, 2019 Women’s NCAA Finals Set Number: X162590 TK1

The UCF Knights Women’s Basketball program has found its new head coach: former LSU and Baylor assistant Sytia Messer.

Messer was announced as the Knights’ new hire late Sunday afternoon.

Recruiting Reputation

Messer comes to UCF from LSU, where she was the top assistant under Kim Mulkey. She has worked under Mulkey since the 2014-2015 season with the Baylor Bears, and was in the running for the Baylor head coach job, but did not get it. She followed Mulkey to LSU this past season.

Check out this interview with Jacques Doucet of WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge where Coach Messer discusses her move to LSU along with Coach Mulkey:

Under Mulkey, Messer (whose first name is pronounced suh-TEE-uh) was Baylor’s main recruiter. In the time she was there, Messer recruited a dozen McDonald’s All-Americans to Waco, and in her one year at LSU, brought in that program’s first McDonald’s All-American in five years.

Messer’s ability as a recruiter paid off for Baylor. In her seven years there, the Bears made the Elite Eight every year but two (one was the year the tournament was canceled), and posted a combined record of 228-18, with one national title in 2019. Baylor won the conference regular season title every one of those seasons.

Head Coaching Experience

UCF will be Coach Messer’s second head coaching job. Previously, she was the head coach at Tenessee Tech for three seasons, from 2009-2012.

In her second year, she led Tech to the OVC regular season title with a 23-8 record (15-3 in conference), but the Golden Eagles were relegated to the WNIT after a bitter loss to Tennessee Martin in the OVC Tournament. The next year, Tennessee Tech finished in fourth place, but Messer resigned of her own accord after that season to accept the associate head coaching job at Georgia Tech under MaChelle Joseph — her second stint under Joseph in that position.

The year after that, Messer joined Mulkey’s staff at Baylor.

Legendary Playing Career

Messer’s playing career was the stuff of legend at Arkansas. She led the Lady Razorbacks to the Final Four for the first time in 1998. At the time, Arkansas was the lowest seed (9) to ever make the Final Four:

Big 12 Knowledge

Messer’s knowledge of the Big 12 should give her a massive advantage as UCF transitions to its new league. Not only did Baylor win the Big 12 regular season title in every season she was there, but the Bears also dominated the nation statistically.

Baylor was known as a high-scoring team prior to Messer’s arrival, but their defense dramatically improved when she got there.

The season before she arrived in Waco, in 2013-14, the Bears were 67th in the nation in scoring defense despite being 4th in scoring offense. In her first season as an assistant (2014-15), Baylor moved up to 59th, and then 16th, 20th, 16th, 13th, 2nd, and 15th in the following seasons.

That level of defensive commitment should dovetail nicely with UCF coming off of a season where they were the #1 scoring defense in the nation.

What’s Next?

Messer will be introduced officially on Tuesday at 2 p.m. ET. Her next order of business will be repairing a roster that returns just six players who saw action last season — only two of which were in the regular rotation.

Three key players from last year are in the transfer portal, including AAC Player of the Year Diamond Battles, AAC Sixth Player of the Year Britney Smith, and starting guard Alisha Lewis. It remains to be seen whether the hiring of Messer would entice any of those players to return to UCF, but even if they don’t Messer’s ability as a recruiter, combined with the potential to attract new players in the transfer portal, could give UCF a fighting chance at defending their American Athletic Conference championship from this past season, and springboard the Knights to the Big 12, when that finally comes about.